President Jair Bolsonaro published on his social networks, last Friday, an excerpt of a television interview in which a military police he repeats the campaign’s motto “Brazil above all, God above all”―, before answering a question about a police operation. It was enough to reinforce fears that the category would endorse the protests scheduled for Sete de Setembro in support of the president, in an act that could reverberate in the 2022 election. But, at least until the beginning of this week, there were still no signs of a mass adhesion by the military police. According to representatives of the category heard by EL PAÍS, even if the president tries to ride a wave of historic salary dissatisfaction among PMs, he should not be able to gather more than a few isolated statements in his support.
In recent weeks, active and retired (retired) police officers have been calling their colleagues for the September 7 demonstration in favor of Bolsonaro and against the Federal Supreme Court (STF), the typical authoritarian and undemocratic agenda that the president got used to promoting. The date is symbolic: the day on which Brazil’s independence is celebrated. “It’s a desperate attitude, because Bolsonaro doesn’t have as much support anymore. Try to generate identification favorable to him. If he had support, he wouldn’t be doing any of that”, assesses Rafael Alcadipani, one of the main researchers of police organizations in Brazil and a professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation.
The main moves in favor of breakups came among São Paulo police. One of them, from the reserve: the colonel and former commander of the Route Ricardo de Mello Araújo, who currently holds a commissioned position as indicated by Bolsonaro at the General Supply Center of São Paulo (Ceagesp). On the other hand, active-duty colonel Aleksander Lacerda ended up removed by Governor João Doria (PSDB) from the post of commander of Interior Policing in the Sorocaba region. Both called their colleagues to participate in the demonstration. The president himself has already said that he will participate in loco of the protest in Brasília and, probably, by videoconference of the mobilization scheduled for São Paulo. He wants to make the act a kind of pre-electoral campaign in 2022, when he must run for re-election.
Bolsonaro has seen his popularity plummet. The rejection of his government is close to 60%, and the latest electoral polls place him as defeated in the second round by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) —or by any other of the considered competitors. Even the financial market is beginning to send signals that it is worried about the president’s radicalism. In the view of Professor Rafael Alcadipani, the police officers who have made these “summons” act individually, without the support of other peers or institutions, and are mainly keeping an eye on an electoral platform linking to Bolsonaro’s extremist image. “The only way they have to appear is to bet on radicalization”, he says.
The specialist reports that the tops of the PMs demonstrate that they have control of the troops and says they believe there is little chance that violent acts will occur, even though the intelligence sectors and the internal affairs offices of the state police have a yellow light on. The risk, in his assessment, would be for the police to “play at a standstill”. “What could happen, not necessarily on the 7th, but at any time, is the omission of the police. Just like what happened in the United States Capitol, when the police did not act and let the confusion grow”, analyzes Alcadipani.
The president of the National Federation of State Military Officials Entities (Feneme), Colonel Marlon Tezza, says he is calm about the confrontations and minimized the calls made by his colleagues. “No breakup, any takeover, any radicalization crosses our minds. That’s the thinking of isolated actors,” he said. Feneme is the largest institution of Police and Military Firefighters, representing 75,000 of the country’s 90,000 high-ranking professionals.
According to Tezza, in recent years most police officers who rebelled, such as those who rioted in Ceará in February 2020, ended up suffering some punishment. And this has discouraged them from taking more drastic attitudes, leaving radicalism only in speeches. The category’s concern, says the colonel, is in the search for better working conditions and salary readjustments. “There is an almost generalized discontent about wages. At a time like this, with high spirits, this becomes more evident”, he explained.
The salaries of PMs in Brazil have a huge disparity, mainly because they are from careers linked to the 27 States and the Federal District, and not the Union. The average is 2,446 reais for soldiers and corporals, who work on the front lines, and 27,369 reais for those at the top of their careers, like the colonels. A difference of almost 16 times. Compared to eight other countries, Brazil has the lowest minimum wage for its police officers (US$492) and the third highest maximum (US$7,820). The data are contained in the Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security released last month.
The wage issue has also been the main reason for complaints from the “plazas”, that is, those who are doing repressive and ostensible work in the streets, such as soldiers, corporals, sergeants and warrant officers. They make up the majority of the nation’s 686,000 active police officers. “We will not be on the street on September 7th because our agenda is not ideological, but of our category,” said Lieutenant Luiz Gonzaga, federal deputy for the PDT who made a career as a military policeman in Minas Gerais and chaired the National Association of Squares (Anaspra).
In Gonzaga’s view, there is an identification between police officers and Bolsonaro because the category felt excluded by previous governments, from Fernando Collor to Michel Temer. “I don’t believe there is a movement of institutional rupture. The military police felt empowered by Bolsonaro because they were always despised by other Governments”, he said. Despite being from an opposition party to the president, Gonzaga says he does not consider himself an opponent and claims to be against his impeachment, as defended by leftist parties. “I use politics to make a class struggle, not class to make a political struggle. The impeachment is a radical movement, as was Dilma Rousseff’s. Anyone who wants to, has to win at the ballot box,” he said, who voted for the president’s removal.
With the participation or not of the police, the expectation is that the actions in support of the agent will be supported by other political actors, including truck drivers, evangelicals, groups nostalgic for the military dictatorship and ruralists, who have invested resources to participate in the demonstrations. On the other hand, the participation of armed police officers, in plain clothes, is not ruled out. And this is one of the concerns of the organizers of opposition movements who also intend to take to the streets on September 7 in Brazil’s three largest cities ―São Paulo, Rio and Brasília― to protest against the Bolsonaro government.
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